Many years ago my wife and I, and our youngest daughter, Tylah, went to see Brisbane’s annual fireworks display. It is quite spectacular and more than 250,000 people gather to watch it. For that reason I went early. My wife and Tylah were supposed to arrive just before it started, but a phone call right as they commenced let me know they were having difficulty getting through the crowd. When the show was complete I went looking for them, only to discover my wife distressed because Tylah had gone missing. There were security, police and strangers out looking for her. I reasoned that it was possible, once separated, that she had returned to the bus stop and I decided to go there to look for her. The bus stop is on the other side of a busy rode and it is traversed by a pedestrian bridge. As I mounted the stairs, to my relief I saw Tylah walking down the stairs. I quickly crossed over to her side of the stairs, caught up to her, and put my arm around her shoulders. I said, “Oh Tylah we have been looking for you.” It was a very noisy location. Tylah squirmed a little under my arm. I looked more closely at her, did not recognise the clothes or the bag she was wearing, and was overcome with a sense of embarrassment as I realised I had put my arm around a complete stranger. When we got to the bottom of the stairs she took a couple of quick steps and disappeared into the crowd. I continued to look for a few more minutes around the bus stop and then returned to my wife. She, understandably, was starting to panic. We searched for another half an hour or so and finally got a call from Tylah. She had gotten the bus, I had missed her at the stop, and she was home safe. When we arrived home and had a chance to debrief and talk about the evening. Tylah indicated that she was never really worried except for a brief moment where a stranger stepped out of the crowd and put an arm around her while coming down the stairs. She said that at the first chance she got she ran through the crowd. I had been with her. She had bought a new set of clothes and handbag that day so I didn’t recognise them, and she had not seen me come from behind, and never heard me speak. It remains one of my best anecdotes about the limitations of humanity – I didn’t recognise my daughter and she didn’t recognise me.
That little story is a humorous one precisely because a father is supposed to know his daughter, no matter what. Loving families recognise each other. It is part of being family that there is a bond and connection that transcends temporal realities. Well it didn’t on this occasion.
One of the crucial pieces of my thesis is the idea that the love we experience regularly, and the longing that we have for love is a reflection that we are still loved by God. God created us in love. Even though life, circumstances, sin, and shame have created a barrier between us and God, that barrier is not complete. We are able to recognise God because the love that is within is always seeking and longing for God. That is possible only because God’s love is still active in the world.
John Wesley called this idea “preventing grace.” The phrase, which confusingly sounds like the grace of God is stopping bad things happening, has been reworded to become “prevenient grace.” Either way they mean the same thing. It speaks of God’s activity in the world that is making it possible for us to recognise and respond to God.
We possess, even still, within our being the Image of God. This idea of the Image of God, the Imago Dei, is important because it speaks to that place within us that centres us in love. We long for love, we experience the best of life when we love, and when we are loved shame begins to melt away – all this because of the Image of God within. God’s grace, God’s love, when it reaches to us is able to cause response because the Image of God has not been totally lost from our existence.